Game Overview: A two player game where each player has a unique and one of a kind deck of cards where you will have to battle it out with three active houses that are part of the Crucible, a world built from the pieces of countless planets across the stars.  The world was built for God like creatures, Archons, who clash as they attempt to forge keys to unlock the planet’s hidden vaults, which will give you ultimate knowledge and power.

The decks have three things that separate them from any other deck that is available in the game and these are all determined and generated from a computer program.  It will have a name associated with it that will not be found any where else, the backside image on the cards is also unique to your deck and the selection of cards is randomly generated.  All of this information is unknown to you until you open and play the deck.

Box Contents: There are multiple options available to you when getting into the game or when expanding the game.  Available are starter sets for KeyForge: Call of the Archons (2018/307 Cards), KeyForge: Age of Ascension (2019/204 Cards), KeyForge: Worlds Colide (2019/284 Cards), Keyforge: Mass Mustation (2020/250+ Cards) and the upcoming KeyForge: Dark Tidings (2021/250+ Cards).

If purchasing KeyForge: Call of the Archons, two decks are included that are not unique which allows you to become familiar with the game.  It also includes two additional unique decks.  Cardboard tokens are included that are needed to keep track of actions that occur throughout the game.  What you will not find are instructions.  To obtain these, you will need to go to the Fantasy Flight website to obtain them.

With each additional release, new cards, new abilities, new mechanics and some new houses may be introduced while others go away.  The starter sets include two unique decks, two paper playmates, the rules, and thicker cardboard tokens to play the game.

Additionally, you can purchase single decks for each of the releases to add to your game.

Clarity of Rules: Once you get to the rules either on the website or by using the one included with the starter sets that include them, they do a decent but not great job of explaining the game.  While I think the instructions present the rules as needed and make it clear on how to play the game, there will be many questions with how the cards interact with each other.  With that being said, the sheer number of unique combinations of cards that can be played, there is no way that the instructions could cover everything.  Because of this, Fantasy Flight maintains a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) online along with other unofficial FAQs that can be found online.

Game Play:  Each deck will contain three of the seven available houses for that release and on your turn you must call on one of the houses.  You can only play or discard cards from that house.  When playing cards from your hand, they must enter play exhausted where you turn the card sideways or at an angle to represent this.  If you already have cards in play of that house, you can take actions with them and then exhaust them.

There are four types of cards that may be entering play.  Artifacts are cards that remain in play, unless another card is played that removes that from the game board.  When calling on that house, you can activate that artifact each turn if it is not currently exhausted.  Creature cards provide a strength, possibly a defensive value, and potentially actions you can take with them.  Upgrade cards can be played onto a creature that provides an upgraded ability.  Finally, action cards can be played that impact the game such as pulling cards out of your discard pile.

When cards are played, some of them may have an Aember symbol in the upper left hand corner that you gain.  Aember is very important in that you must have six Aember and then at the start of your turn you can forge one of your three keys.  Once you forge your third key, the game is immediately over.

The use of creatures allows you to control different aspects of the game.  Using their strength, you can attack a creature that your opponent has played.  This is considered a simultaneous attack with each creature taking damage based on their opponent’s strength.  If they have a defense value, they will reduce the damage being taken.  Other abilities may come into play that impact the battle between the creatures.  Some creatures are elusive where the first time they are attacked, it does nothing but a second one will then cause them to take damage.  Some may have taunt where they can be attacked but the creatures immediately to the left and right of them can not be attacked.  Another option that each creature can take is to reap, which gains them a single Aember.

The above really just touches on a normal turn and what you can do. In reality, cards will be played that alter these rules until those cards are removed from play.  For example, one card allows you to bring all of your new cards into play unexhausted and can be used right away.  Once that card is defeated, then you return to the normal rule of cards entering exhausted.  Another example is that when you reap, you gain two Aember instead.

Replay Ability: The replay ability is off the charts for this game and probably has more replay ability than I have ever seen in a game.  Every single deck will play in a different way.  It also will play differently based on how the cards come out in your deck and what cards your opponent is playing.

The different houses that show up in your deck and what they specialize in really mix things up from deck to deck.

·         Brobnar-Powerful fighting creatures that hit hard.

·         Diss-Disruptive abilities.

·         Logos-Allows you to archive cards and bring them back into your hand when you choose to.

·         Mars-Allow for card combinations setting up powerful abilities.

·         Shadows-Specializes in stealing Aember and elusive creatures.

·         Sanctum-Capturing Aember from your opponent and includes shield defenses.

·         Saurian-Big creatures with high risk/high rewards.

·         Star Alliance-Specializes using cards outside of the current house.

·         Unfathomable-Controls their foes by exhausting enemy creatures.

·         Untamed-Allows for manipulation of creatures.

The fun of the game is to play your decks multiple times and trying to figure out what card combinations they have that may allow you to defeat your opponent.

Appropriate Audience: The game suggests 14+.  While there is nothing questionable with the cards or the game itself that would make me agree with the age limitation, the complexity is there for sure where someone younger may not always understand the best way to play the game.  Can someone younger play this and understand the game?  Absolutely and is really dependant on the player.

What We Liked/Didn't Like: My oldest son and I absolutely love this game and have already played it almost 60 times and our win/loss record is very similar, showing how competitive and balanced the game is.  We constantly are amazed at how well everything works together when something occurs that we didn’t expect and how it ends up playing out.  We also love those ah ha moments when we figure out what our decks our meant to do.  That doesn’t necessarily come after one play and usually takes multiple plays of that single deck.  We try to play each deck a minimum of six times.

I personally love the aspect where I do not have to build a deck.  Both of us have many, many Pokemon cards and while I have built some decks I always feel like I would spend so much time to try and figure out how to make a deck work and when it doesn’t you feel like you have just wasted your time.  Or perhaps you just don’t have the cards available to you so you are not competitive at all.  My favorite way to play Pokemon is with the pre-built championship decks.  This is a huge plus for me in opening a deck and just going with it.  Knowing there is no other deck out there that matches the deck you are using and looking forward to opening a new deck to see its name and what cards are there is something we are always looking forward to.

The price point of entry is also a big positive.  You don’t have to buy lots of decks.  You can just have a few and as you learn them inside and out, you can become very effective with them.  Starter sets can be found for 25 or less and a single deck typically sells for $10 or less.  You don’t even need to purchase the starter set and can come up with your own tokens for the game.  If you don’t want to get too competitive, you can even buy opened decks on the secondary market at a deep discount where those people do not think those decks are competitive.   

As much as we like this game, no game is perfect and the same is true here.  Multiple times we have had to look up a card online as we had questions about what the actions available to it, really mean.  Almost every time someone else had the exact same question.  This just shows that some things are not clear and as more and more cards are added, even more questions will pop up about how cards interact with each other.  The same thing can be said with how multiple cards end up playing off each other and the timing of them.  I feel there needs to be a better direction available as the official FAQ provides some info but doesn’t go far enough.

While the tokens provided help with keeping track of things, we wish there were others available to help both players truly understand the current status of the board.  It would be nice to quickly identify creatures that are Elusive, where you have to attack them a second time to do damage or defeat them, or creatures that have taunt. We actually took the step to create some of our own tokens to track this.  You can also find some really nice upgraded tokens being sold at Etsy and other similar websites.

The other thing that I am not crazy about is the theme.  It just doesn’t come across in the game play for us at all.  Fantasy Flight is trying to immerse people in this world though as they have released books and RPGs as they try to capitalize on the popularity of the game.

Add-ons/Other Releases: Yearly releases have been occurring since the game was first released.